Freelance Journalist's blog

What You Should Know Before Booking a Flight School
Many people dream of becoming a pilot. For a select few, the dream becomes a reality after they have spent many months and thousands of euros studying for a private pilot’s licence. In Europe today, there are around 75,000 private pilots, just one out of every 10,000 people.
More than 450 schools in Europe offer fixed-wing flight training, including 130 in the UK and 33 in Spain. Some of them are large, well-established schools which provide not only private pilot instruction but train commercial pilots, so that they can work for airlines.
Checking out a flight school
For private pilot tuition, here are some things to look out for:
Visit the school before you sign up. Go to at least two or three schools, to compare the facilities, meet instructors, discuss the training programme and understand how the course works. What kind of impression do they make – are they welcoming, helpful, friendly?
Try to meet both instructors and students. A good school will introduce you to instructors. Do they seem motivated and interested in your progress? The school should also allow you to talk to students, so you can ask them questions about their experiences – good and bad. How was their tuition? What is the school’s pass rate – how many students fail or drop out of the course each year?
Take a trial lesson. A one-off lesson will give you a good sense of the school’s culture, the kind of instructor they employ and the state of their aircraft. While you’re up in the air, you can ask lots more questions about the course, the school and the financial arrangements.
Ask about the planes they use. How many do they have? How old are they? Are they all operating? How do they look to you – are they new and smart, or do they look old and run-down? If there are planes that are out of use, this could be a sign that the flight school is struggling. It may be difficult for them to provide sufficient planes for all its students.
Do some background checks. Find out whether the flight school has had any financial problems. You will probably receive a shiny, professionally-produced brochure laying out the flight school’s credentials. Make sure you get a second opinion about its financial position – particularly if it is a recently-formed school without a long track record.
Trust your intuition on a flight school. If you feel uneasy, whether it’s the state of the aircraft, the attitude of the instructors, or you feel that their terms and conditions are unfair, then look elsewhere. There are lots of flight schools to choose from.
Financial arrangements
Learning to fly can be expensive. In Europe, you can expect to pay at least €10,000, with potential extras for travel, landing fees, additional lessons or flying time and equipment.
When discussing financial arrangements with a flight school, here are some helpful pointers:
Ask for a breakdown of the costs for the course. The school should itemise how much they are charging for tuition, flight time, examination fees, etc. If for some reason you wish to leave the course, it’s important to know what you’ve already paid for and what you can expect to be refunded.
Ask about additional payments. Flight schools quote a price for the qualifications that a student can gain, including a certain number of hours flying time. But some students need to spend more hours in order to complete their training. How much will the school charge for extra hours?
What is the payment schedule? Some schools ask for large payments up front – as much as the entire tuition costs. This makes sense for them, because it improves their cashflow situation and motivates students to complete the course, but are you sure that you want to commit that much money? Industry organisations such as the British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA) argues that this is poor practice. “People shouldn’t have to pay large amounts up front,” said a spokeswoman.
[This issue has two sides to it. One flight school in the UK charged smaller amounts than its competitors upfront – jut £2,500 (€2,650) – but then collapsed into administration. Flight Global magazine commented: “The company’s inability to generate sufficient cash in advance to meet its outgoings may have been a factor in its demise.” Some schools offer discounts to students who pay their entire fees upfront, something else to bear in mind.]
Find out what happens if you don’t complete the course. If you are unwilling or unable to complete the course, you may have difficulty getting a refund for the portion of your fee that has not been used. Make sure to ask about the school’s policy on refunds.
If possible, pay your fees on a credit card. This offers you some protection in case the school goes out of business. You may think this is unlikely, but in 2022 and 2023 three schools in the UK went bust, one after the other, leaving dozens of students out of pocket. Some of them were studying for commercial pilot licences and had paid €100,000 in advance.
Potential Disputes
The great majority of flight students complete their courses without serious problems. They are extremely motivated to succeed, given the high cost of the courses and the rewards for succeeding – having the freedom to fly for years to come.
Nevertheless, issue can arise. Here are the most common ones:
1. Contractual disputes
Flying is a hazardous activity, so there are strict rules to observe. Many different kinds of weather – fog, high winds, heavy rain – can restrict flying. Aircraft need regular servicing and spare parts can be hard to source.
As a result flight schools cannot guarantee that flying lessons will take place on a certain day.
Flight students may also require flexibility: they may have demanding jobs or other commitments. Marrying students’ timetables and flight school availability requires patience and flexibility on both sides.
In some cases, flight schools or students come into conflict over schedules, over payments and fees, or over refunds where students are unhappy with the service they’ve received.
2. Dissatisfaction with the facilities or the standard of tuition
Some flight schools use older aircraft, which may sometimes be unavailable due to servicing. This can be frustrating to students who have to wait for aircraft to use. Equally, there may not be sufficient instructors for the number of students, once again leading to delays.
A further cause of complaint may be that students do not pass a flight exam at the end of their course. They may then blame the standard of tuition for this.
Case study
In 2023 a foreign national living on the Spanish island of Tenerife wanted to learn to fly. He approached the Blue Team Flight School, based at Las Chafiras in the south of the island.
The flight school charged him €10,000, split into five payment of €2,000 each and asked for the first two payments (€4,000) upfront, which he paid.
After studying aviation theory and meteorology in September and November 2023, he was expecting an invoice for the third payment to arrive. Instead, he received an email saying that his position on the course had been cancelled ‘due to non-payment of an invoice’.
A dispute then developed between the student and the flight school, which said they had sent an invoice, whereas the student denied that he had received it. He offered to pay what was owed, but the flight school refused to reinstate him, or to offer any refund of his fees.
The school claimed that the student had completed only 2.5 hours of study since he began his course, whereas he insisted that he spent more than 100 hours studying. The student also claimed that he was given a misleading impression that the course would be taught in English, whereas much of the material was in Spanish.
With no resolution in sight, the student hired a legal firm, who wrote to the flight school arguing that: ‘non-payment, caused by the absence of communication or receipt of a proforma invoice, cannot justify the unilateral termination of the Contract.’
In response, the flight school agreed to refund €2,000 of the fee, maintaining that the student had benefited from €2,000 worth of tuition.
When contacted, Blue Team Flight School insisted that its courses are taught in English. A spokeswoman refused to provide details of students who had completed courses, which experts in flight training argue is an important option for potential students, so that they can gain reliable information about a school.
Blue Team Flight School said that it has a very limited number of places for its September 2024 courses.
Take extra care when signing up for flight courses. Read the contract in detail and be sure to confirm the exact terms of any financial arrangements. Visit the school and meet instructors and other students where possible.
Flying is an amazing hobby or career. So it’s crucial to have a good understanding with your flight school, to achieve the best result.

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